Study Reveals New Insight on Why Humans Became Light-Skinned in Europe

Genetic tests on ancient and modern European samples show certain selective pressures had a role.

If you have European ancestry and you’re fairly light-skinned with light hair and light-colored eyes, there is now new scientific data to help explain why you are the way you are.

A recent DNA study supports the suggestion that strong selection factors for those phenotypes (physical characteristics) acted upon pigmentation genes over the last 5,000 years. Sandra Wilde of Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany, along with her colleagues, developed estimates of selection acting on functional alleles of three pigmentation-related genes from Eneolithic, Bronze Age, and modern eastern European humans by using computer simulation techniques. 

Reports Wilde, et. al: “Our results provide direct evidence that strong selection favoring lighter skin, hair, and eye pigmentation has been operating in European populations over the last 5,000 years……….In sum, a combination of selective pressures associated with living in northern latitudes, the adoption of an agriculturalist diet, and assortative mating may sufficiently explain the observed change from a darker phenotype during the Eneolithic/Early Bronze Age to a generally lighter one in modern Eastern Europeans…….”  However, Wilde, et. al, caution that while this may be true, “other selective factors cannot be discounted.”*

The article detailing the study has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


*Article #13-16513: “Direct evidence for positive selection of skin, hair, and eye pigmentation in Europeans during the last 5,000 y,” by Sandra Wilde et al.  at


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